|I will never understand the impact my sister's death had on me or my family. I've learned that the only power I have in this is the power of acceptance.
My sister Sara was sixteen months older than I; third in the birth order of six children. The little baby boy born previously, Crossie was his name, was the first and only other child besides Sara, in my family, to be born with Fanconi's Syndrome, a disease that affects the immune system. Crossie was the first diagnosed, Sara was the first to die.
At a time when birth control was not yet available I cannot imagine the torture my parents went through with every pregnancy; every birth. I'm not sure how much the deaths of these two children affected the eventual breakdown of my family; but breakdown it did.
I write about Sara because she was closest to me in age, and was my earliest and best friend.
Sara was small for her age. I, being next in the birth order, was so close in size to her that we could be mistaken for twins.
I have an old photograph of the two of us, sitting in a pair of high chairs with the trays removed. We are pushed up to a table in some long forgotten kitchen, eating a meal. Our little faces are looking down at our plates; two golden pageboy haircuts, glistening in the camera flash. I have no idea which one is me.
We ran away from home once, when I was five and Sara was six. Many days Sara was not strong enough to go outside, but this was a good day for her. She was healthy and happy and we flung ourselves into the adventure. We ran as fast as we could, lest we be caught leaving the yard without permission, down the familiar street into the great big unknown world. We were together.
And, of course, we were lost in no time at all.
Sara was again small and sick, and she was afraid. We found a policeman, and I being the brave one, gave him our names and address and he took us home.
That summer I, along with my two older siblings, was sent to stay with grandparents in another state. Sara stayed home.
My sister and brother were bonded and spent much of thier time roaming around the neighborhood golf course, riding bikes and visiting neighbors. I was too young to accompany them on many of their excursions. It was a lonely summer.
I played jump rope and hopscotch; dressed the paper dolls my grandmother cut out of her monthly magazine. I missed Sara.
One day I saw a girl about my age playing in front of the house next door; she was all alone just like me. Although my grandmother had warned me to stay in the yard I disobeyed, slithering through the tall hedges seperating the two properties. I stayed the entire afternoon, so hungry for the companionship of another little girl that I was willing to face the consequences.
And there were consequences; my grandmother was of the "spare the rod, spoil the child" philosophy.
Sara died in July of that summer, just two days after I turned seven. My grandparents had taken us to an amusement park to celebrate my birthday.
Sara had been dying while I was riding my first roller coaster.
Although my grandparents told me Sara was gone I had no comprehension of it. Death seems impossible to a seven year old. I didn't even begin to understand until we went home weeks later.
Sara had been the gregarious one, making friends easily with all of the neighborhood kids. I'd just tagged along, benefitting from her outgoing nature. I had ready made playmates all over the block. That first morning home I went outside and stood on the sidewalk, feeling alone and awkward. Then I heard my name being called and saw, running towards me a little girl named Doris. She had been one of Sara's best friends. Now she was running toward me with her arms wide open. She hugged me as if I were her best friend, as if I were Sara. I think it was at that moment that I first became aware of a confusion that would stay with me for many, many years, and even to some extent, to this day.
Who am I without Sara?
I still love you Sara, and I still miss you.